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Panel Recommends Meningitis Booster

October 28, 2010

A federal advisory panel is recommending that teens get a booster dose of the vaccine for bacterial meningitis because a single dose does not work for as long as originally expected.

The vaccine was initially given to high school and college students because the disease is more dangerous for adolescents and young adults and can easily be spread in crowded areas, like dorm rooms.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices said three years ago that the vaccine should be given to children ages 11 and 12. They originally expected the shot to be effective for at least ten years.

But studies found that the vaccine only works for 5 years or less, and the panel was alerted of the findings.

The committee deliberated over the issue and debated whether to add a booster shot or just simply push back the timing of a single dose to teens between the ages of 14 and 15. They decided that teens should still get their initial shot at age 11 and a booster at age 16.

The vote for the second shot was 6 to 5, an unusually close vote for the panel. They concluded that a booster after five years is easier and less confusing to implement than changing the age of the first shot.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Dept. of Health and Human Services (DHHS) usually adopt the recommendations of the panel and sends the advice to doctors and the public.

However, an FDA administration official, Norman Baylor, said more studies about the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness of a second dose is needed before recommendations can really be adopted.

Some wondered if it was necessary to even make such a decision. Bacterial meningitis cases are at historic lows, and a survey of more than 200 colleges and universities in the last academic year found only 11 cases of the disease and three deaths in the more than 2 million students nationwide.

Dr James Turner, head of student health at the University of Virginia and a liaison to the panel for the American College Health Association, said he is “not terribly worried about emergent disease,” according to the Associated Press.

But during a public comment session, several people pleaded with the panel to keep the initial dose at 11 and 12, and add the booster if necessary. One 25-year-old man told of how his legs and hands were amputated after a bacterial meningitis infection when he was 14.

Dr Amanda Cohn, an expert with the CDC, told the panel that some studies show the vaccine losing its effectiveness within just a few years. One study, of the vaccine Menactra, found that the vaccine was 95 percent effective the first year but dropped to under 60 percent effective in two to five years after people were vaccinated.

The vaccine, which costs around $90, is designed to prevent the disease and infection from taking hold in the body. The infection can cause swelling of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.

Though the disease is fairly rare in the US, those who get it develop symptoms rather quickly and can die in just a few days if not treated. Survivors can have mental disabilities, hearing loss and paralysis.

Bacterial meningitis is spread by coughing, sneezing and kissing. Most cases occur in previously healthy children and young adults.

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